Something a little different today – this is not a regular column, but a bit of promotion for a fan series that everyone here at DoWntime has worked on – our very own Janine Rivers’ non profit fan produced audio drama “The Twelfth Doctor Adventures”. As part of the lead in to the series’ Christmas special, I’ve written this post, where, as one of the writers on the series, I promote the first series, and as a fan of the production, I talk about what it means to me.
For those of you who don’t know, “The Twelfth Doctor Adventures” is a Doctor Who fan audio series, produced by Janine Rivers, Starring David McCormack (Credited as Paul Cabria) as the Twelfth Doctor and Michelle Coats as his new companion Antonia Perkins. The series is not for profit, and exists to celebrate, pay tribute to, and promote the twelfth Doctor’s era of the BBC show. More information about the series, as well as downloads for the episodes, can be found on the series’s Website here:
And on the 12DA twitter here:
Before we begin, it’s worth acknowledging my own biases when I say “the Twelfth Doctor Adventures are a wonderful thing”. I’m friends with many of the people who worked on the production, and contributed to the series myself, writing “Nightingale”, the sixth episode of the series. So of course I’m going to write about how wonderful it is, right? Well, no. If the series wasn’t something I was proud to be a part of, I wouldn’t have written a retrospective on the first season saying how wonderful it is. I’d have kept my head down and not said anything. But I am proud to be a part of this wonderful fan series, so I will gladly say as much, and give my friends on the crew the praise they deserve.
And that crew are really at the core of what made the first series of the 12DAs so brilliant, and so much fun. If I had to describe them (and I’m going to talk about the rest of the crew here, and keep mention of my own contributions to a minimum, hence the use of “them”, not “us”), I’d describe them as a group of Doctor Who fans who love Doctor Who and the Twelfth Doctor’s era, using their love of the show and the inspiration provided by that era of Doctor Who to write the type of Doctor Who they want to see in the world. And the vision they have for Doctor Who is inclusive, diverse, and bold, daring to tell the stories the TV show hasn’t yet told, or is unlikely to be able to tell as a mainstream television drama.
With that previous statement in mind, what is the series about, to me, and what is so daring and bold about it? For me, series one of the Twelfth Doctor Adventures is a journey through the last decade, politically and personally, primarily for Janine, whose vision, writing, and incredible work ethic shaped the series, but also for everyone else involved in the production – Michelle and David, the other writers, actors, and directors. It’s an account of how we got from the world at the start of 2010 to where we are now, at the end of 2018.
Perhaps the best way to track this journey is through a brief look at Janine’s solo scripts for the series. We start with “The Lost Sailor”, set at the beginning of the decade: it’s a script that depicts the optimism at the start of 2010, the hope the world was turning a corner towards something better, but with the underlying dread that comes with our knowledge that the political downswing of the decade is about to begin with the 2010 UK general election undercutting that optimism. This is followed by “Ghosts in the Machine” and “La Lune”, two episodes set in the future that nonetheless explore where we’ve come to now, by depicting the horrors of late Captilism that we are dealing with today, as well as contemplating where the creeping rise of fascism in recent years could become directed in the future, directly addressing the fact things have not gotten better but have in fact gotten worse, and could get worse still if we don’t do something about it. And with this possibility in mind, “Among Angels” goes back from the present to fully explore the bits in between the start of the decade and where we are now. Having seen where we began, where we’ve gotten, and acknowledged the possibility that where we go could be somewhere worse, the series ends with an exploration of how we got where we are, and how we might begin to make things better, and prevent the future as presented to us in “Ghosts in the Machine” and “Among Angels” from happening. And the answer is both simple and valuable: engage with material reality of the world we live in, understand the lives of people less privileged than us, or people who are screwed over by the world in different ways to us, so that we can work collectively to build a world that’s genuinely better for everyone in it.
While Janine’s solo scripts provide the core of the thematic argument the series is making, the stories written by guest writers all build on that argument in varying ways. Throughout the series, there is an emphasis on the importance of deconstructing the stories we’ve been told: “Erasure” tells the story of people who are erased from the historical narrative, with a delightfully literary picking apart of the dramatic conventions of Elizabethan era, and a deconstruction of the default approach Doctor Who has taken when telling stories about Earth’s history. “The Walls are Alive” deconstructs the work of HP Lovecraft, telling a story that uses his tropes to tell a story about embracing the other, instead of fearing and rejecting the other. “Score” tells a Western that critiques the toxic masculinity at the core of the Old West, but also at the core of the stories our culture tells about the American West, suggesting the toxic masculinity at the core of those stories is a limiting and false representation of the way people actually are. On the flip side of this, the series explores stories through episodes that celebrate the positive impact stories have on us: both “Nightingale” and “Hikari’s Dream” are, at their core, about young women who find themselves in the stories they loved as children. And finally, the series takes the time to imagine a better world, as a counterpoint to the possibility raised that the world might get worse in “Ghosts in the Machine”. “Stardancer” is a lovely companion’s first trip that imagines an alien world genuinely different to our own rather than just reflecting our default social constructs, and in doing so suggests the world we live in could be genuinely different to the way we assume it has to be. “Unusual Friends” is a charming return home story that is shippy as anything, and a wonderful character piece that shows the way Antonia’s home – our world – can be a place that is inclusive and welcoming, and lets people who’ve seen the worst of the world find protection, safety, and empowerment. Finally, “The Beautiful” genuinely embraces the possibility of a utopia, imagining that such a society could be exist, and finding it in a way that quietly but wonderfully dismisses standard “anti-sjw” rhetoric as the baseless nonsense it is.
These themes and ideas are wonderfully explored through the storylines of the three delightful characters at the core of the series. First, there’s Samson, played by Nigel Thomas. Samson is a recurring character who takes on the role of secondary companion, and while he is defined by an intriguing mystery, he has wonderful chemistry with the two main leads from the moment he is introduced, and with no small amount of charm challenges the Doctor in ways no other character could. Then there’s the Twelfth Doctor, played by David McCormack. David gives an astonishingly good Peter Capaldi/ Twelfth Doctor impersonation, and also just a wonderfully Doctory performance – he picks up the vocal tics and mannerisms of Capaldi’s Doctor brilliantly, while also remembering to play the character using his own considerable acting talent, instead of just doing an impersonation of the actor playing that character. Series 1 of the Twelfth Doctor Adventures takes place between “Hell Bent” and “The Husbands of River Song” and finds several moments for lovely callbacks to that point in the Twelfth Doctor’s story that form some genuinely moving character moments. But the series is further interested in taking this incarnation of the Doctor places he has never been before, in a way that only a fan series can. Finally, there’s Antonia Perkins, who for my money, is very much the heart of what makes the series great. She’s, as far we know, the first trans companion in any medium, played by the brilliant Michelle Coats, in her debut acting role. Here’s where I’ll talk a little of my experience writing for the series, as a way into discussing what makes Antonia brilliant companion, and marks out a brilliant performance by Michelle. I knew from the get go that I wanted to write a companion centric story, and when Janine gave me permission to do so, and I read the script for “The Lost Sailor”, I knew I’d made the right choice – Antonia immediately leapt of the pages a character filled with life, personality, vulnerabilities, and complexities. So I wrote a script that really demanded a lot from Michelle as an actress, and while it’s up to the audience, not me, to decide if said script actually worked, I feel comfortable saying Michelle absolutely delivered (as did Claire Trusson, who plays Antonia’s mother Deborah in the series, including “Nightingale”), giving a performance full of range and nuance that showcased Antonia’s anxieties, her cleverness, and her righteous anger. So what makes Antonia tick as a character? The thing I find most interesting about her is that, like many companions, she takes on the role of the series’s moral compass, but in a way that questions what being a moral compass should actually look like – the series is absolutely on her side when she makes a moral stand, but on occasions those moral stands are subtly different to Doctor Who’s default morality (this is most clear, in my opinion, in the brilliant final scenes of “Ghosts in the Machine”). She’s more cautious than most companions for understandable reasons, but still just as brave. Her relationship with her mother is beautifully written – it’s one of my favourite companion-parent relationships. She’s a struggling writer who has a delightful minor arc that revolves around her rediscovering her inspiration after leaving her dead end job to join the Doctor on his adventures that is utterly heartwarming to follow. The series was absolutely made for people like Antonia, and I really hope that trans fans, and other members of the LGBT+ community, can find strength and inspiration in Antonia’s story.
Finally, I just want to pay tribute to Janine’s incredible work on the series. She didn’t just write four brilliant episodes. She planned and produced the whole series, doing extensive rewrites on guest scripts (credited and uncredited), scoring the episodes, editing the audio, and even outright directing “Nightingale”. She worked tirelessly on a labour of love: the series is very much hers, and everything it is comes down to her tremendous work ethic and talent. So for her sake, give it a try. “The Twelfth Doctor Adventures” is a wonderful series, and if you haven’t already, I honestly recommend that you check it out as soon as possible.